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The other day, I was watching a scrolling score of Pachelbel's (in)famous Canon in D on Youtube, when I noticed something interesting. In the excerpt below, shouldn't the the circled notes in the 1st violin part be considered an example of parallel fifths (against the bass line)?

If not, why not? I wouldn't expect the intervening rests to break up the effect of parallel motion (at least not until it's repeated 2 bars later in the 2nd violin, at which point the 1st is playing an "offbeat" pattern that effectively breaks up the effect). But is there a special exception in some counterpoint treatise that permits parallel motion to be broken up like that?

Or is Canon in D just a bad example of counterpoint? :-P

FWIW, I notice that this occurs in an inner voice (effectively the tenor at that point). I believe that makes it less severe than it would be if it were in the top-most voice. But isn't it still wrong?

Exceprt: Pachelbel's Canon in D

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Rules were made to be broken :-) . I think you're right that this is an example of notes which happen to be parallel but the actual chords and voicings build differently. Sorta like a full orchestra can have parallel octaves in a forte tune passage so long as that's not forming the harmony. –  Carl Witthoft Jun 5 at 12:15
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Some historical texts about counterpoint state that small errors are more permissible in a strict canon, since the canonic relationship puts so many additional restrictions on the movement of the parts. As well as being in an inner voice and separated by rests, the fifths are also partially covered up by all the rhythmic activity in the other parts. –  Jon O. Jun 5 at 20:38

1 Answer 1

up vote 8 down vote accepted

The point of counterpoint is to make voices have harmonic dependence while having rhythmic and contour independence. i.e. The voices are independent, but all function harmonically. There are parallel 5ths between the bass and the first violin, but the bass and the violin are very dependent on each other at this point so they move together as one unit instead of two separate voices so counterpoint doesn't apply.

Counterpoint is for independence, not dependence so any time two or more parts move together as a unit, you have to treat them as a unit and not as independent voices.

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True enough. I just wouldn't have expected to find that kind of voice dependence in a Canon, of all places. –  Caleb Hines Jun 11 at 21:53

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